Personalizing the Desktop on a Windows Server 2008 Server Core install

Personalizing the Desktop on a Windows Server 2008 Server Core install

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As mentioned in a previous blog post, a Server Core install of Windows Server 2008 does not include Explorer or the MMC. However, it does have a GUI for logon and the command prompt is typically showed in a windows with a graphical background. You also have a screen saver with a password prompt and some of the other basic elements of a Windows desktop. You can avoid most of that by configuring your command prompt to go full-screen/character-mode, but what if you want to stay graphical and customize the desktop? While there is no control panel to configure those, the settings are still there, buried in the registry.

IMPORTANT: This post contains information about modifying the registry. Before you modify the registry, make sure to back it up and make sure that you understand how to restore the registry if a problem occurs. For information about how to back up, restore, and edit the registry, check

The default desktop configuration in Server Core should be fine for most people. You get the standard background color, the standard screen saver and a 10-minute delay before your screen gets locked. However, I work a lot on virtual environments for demonstrations and that brings a number of challenges. First of all, I usually need to differentiate between the multiple virtual machines I am running, and setting a unique background color helps. Second, I typically do not want to lock the screen on every guest OS every 10-minutes, since I already lock my host OS screen.

You will find that most if not all these Control Panel settings end up in "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel" in the Registry. You can use REGEDIT.EXE (GUI) or REG.EXE (command-line) to check it. The two specific setting I was looking for were there. For the background color, you need to update the "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Colors\Background", changing the default RGB value of "29 95 122" to something like "150 150 150" for a nice gray color. To disable the screen saver, you can simple change the value in "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\ScreenSaveActive" from the default 1 to 0. Be sure to logoff and log back on to apply these changes.

The only two control panel you have in Windows Server 2008 Server Core (at least in the June CTP) are the ones for date/time and regional settings ("control.exe timedate.cpl" and "controle.exe intl.cpl"). If you need anything else changed, you'll have to either put in the registry yourself or use a nice Group Policy to do it for you. If you just wanted to take a peek at what you can do, I included below the data I gathered with a REG "HKCU\Control Panel" /S command from a default install of Windows Server 2008 Enterprise Core June CTP.

Be careful with your registry...

Key Name Value Name Value Type Value Data (default)
HKCU\Control Panel\Accessibility MessageDuration REG_DWORD 0x5
HKCU\Control Panel\Accessibility MinimumHitRadius REG_DWORD 0x0
HKCU\Control Panel\Accessibility\On On REG_DWORD 0x0
HKCU\Control Panel\Accessibility\On Locale REG_DWORD 0x0
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors ActiveBorder REG_SZ 212 208 200
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors ActiveTitle REG_SZ 10 36 106
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors AppWorkSpace REG_SZ 128 128 128
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors ButtonAlternateFace REG_SZ 181 181 181
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors ButtonDkShadow REG_SZ 64 64 64
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors ButtonFace REG_SZ 212 208 200
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors ButtonHilight REG_SZ 255 255 255
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors ButtonLight REG_SZ 212 208 200
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors ButtonShadow REG_SZ 128 128 128
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors ButtonText REG_SZ 0 0 0
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors GradientActiveTitle REG_SZ 166 202 240
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors GradientInactiveTitle REG_SZ 192 192 192
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors GrayText REG_SZ 128 128 128
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors Hilight REG_SZ 10 36 106
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors HilightText REG_SZ 255 255 255
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors HotTrackingColor REG_SZ 0 0 128
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors InactiveBorder REG_SZ 212 208 200
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors InactiveTitle REG_SZ 128 128 128
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors InactiveTitleText REG_SZ 212 208 200
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors InfoText REG_SZ 0 0 0
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors InfoWindow REG_SZ 255 255 225
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors Menu REG_SZ 212 208 200
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors MenuText REG_SZ 0 0 0
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors Scrollbar REG_SZ 212 208 200
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors TitleText REG_SZ 255 255 255
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors Window REG_SZ 255 255 255
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors WindowFrame REG_SZ 0 0 0
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors WindowText REG_SZ 0 0 0
HKCU\Control Panel\Colors Background REG_SZ 29 95 122
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop ActiveWndTrackTimeout REG_DWORD 0x0
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop BlockSendInputResets REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop CaretWidth REG_DWORD 0x1
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop ClickLockTime REG_DWORD 0x4b0
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop CoolSwitchColumns REG_SZ 7
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop CoolSwitchRows REG_SZ 3
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop CursorBlinkRate REG_SZ 530
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop DragFullWindows REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop DragHeight REG_SZ 4
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop DragWidth REG_SZ 4
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop FocusBorderHeight REG_DWORD 0x1
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop FocusBorderWidth REG_DWORD 0x1
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop FontSmoothing REG_SZ 2
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop FontSmoothingGamma REG_DWORD 0x0
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop FontSmoothingOrientation REG_DWORD 0x1
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop FontSmoothingType REG_DWORD 0x2
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop ForegroundFlashCount REG_DWORD 0x3
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop ForegroundLockTimeout REG_DWORD 0x30d40
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop LeftOverlapChars REG_SZ 3
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop MenuShowDelay REG_SZ 400
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop PaintDesktopVersion REG_DWORD 0x0
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop Pattern REG_DWORD 0x0
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop RightOverlapChars REG_SZ 3
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop TileWallpaper REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop WallpaperOriginX REG_DWORD 0x0
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop WallpaperOriginY REG_DWORD 0x0
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop WallpaperStyle REG_SZ 2
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop WheelScrollChars REG_SZ 3
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop WheelScrollLines REG_SZ 3
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop ScreenSaveActive REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop ScreenSaverIsSecure REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop ScreenSaveTimeOut REG_SZ 600
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop SCRNSAVE.EXE REG_SZ C:\Windows\system32\logon.scr
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics BorderWidth REG_SZ #USR:Control_Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics CaptionFont REG_BINARY *** binary data snipped ***
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics CaptionHeight REG_SZ -270
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics CaptionWidth REG_SZ -270
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics IconFont REG_BINARY *** binary data snipped ***
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics IconTitleWrap REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics MenuFont REG_BINARY *** binary data snipped ***
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics MenuHeight REG_SZ -270
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics MenuWidth REG_SZ -270
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics MessageFont REG_BINARY *** binary data snipped ***
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics ScrollHeight REG_SZ -240
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics ScrollWidth REG_SZ -240
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics SmCaptionFont REG_BINARY *** binary data snipped ***
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics SmCaptionHeight REG_SZ -180
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics SmCaptionWidth REG_SZ -180
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics StatusFont REG_BINARY *** binary data snipped ***
HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics Shell Icon Size REG_SZ 32
HKCU\Control Panel\Input Method Show Status REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\Input Method\Hot Keys\00000010 Key Modifiers REG_BINARY 02C00000
HKCU\Control Panel\Input Method\Hot Keys\00000010 Target IME REG_BINARY 0
HKCU\Control Panel\Input Method\Hot Keys\00000010 Virtual Key REG_BINARY 20000000
*** other Hot Keys defined here ***      
HKCU\Control Panel\International Locale REG_SZ 409
HKCU\Control Panel\International LocaleName REG_SZ en-US
HKCU\Control Panel\International s1159 REG_SZ AM
HKCU\Control Panel\International s2359 REG_SZ PM
HKCU\Control Panel\International sCountry REG_SZ United States
HKCU\Control Panel\International sCurrency REG_SZ $
HKCU\Control Panel\International sDate REG_SZ /
HKCU\Control Panel\International sDecimal REG_SZ .
HKCU\Control Panel\International sGrouping REG_SZ 3;0
HKCU\Control Panel\International sLanguage REG_SZ ENU
HKCU\Control Panel\International sList REG_SZ ,
HKCU\Control Panel\International sLongDate REG_SZ dddd, MMMM dd, yyyy
HKCU\Control Panel\International sMonDecimalSep REG_SZ .
HKCU\Control Panel\International sMonGrouping REG_SZ 3;0
HKCU\Control Panel\International sMonThousandSep REG_SZ ,
HKCU\Control Panel\International sNativeDigits REG_SZ 123456789
HKCU\Control Panel\International sNegativeSign REG_SZ -
HKCU\Control Panel\International sPositiveSign REG_SZ
HKCU\Control Panel\International sShortDate REG_SZ M/d/yyyy
HKCU\Control Panel\International sThousand REG_SZ ,
HKCU\Control Panel\International sTime REG_SZ :
HKCU\Control Panel\International sTimeFormat REG_SZ h:mm:ss tt
HKCU\Control Panel\International sYearMonth REG_SZ MMMM, yyyy
HKCU\Control Panel\International iCalendarType REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\International iCountry REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\International iCurrDigits REG_SZ 2
HKCU\Control Panel\International iCurrency REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\International iDate REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\International iDigits REG_SZ 2
HKCU\Control Panel\International NumShape REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\International iFirstDayOfWeek REG_SZ 6
HKCU\Control Panel\International iFirstWeekOfYear REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\International iLZero REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\International iMeasure REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\International iNegCurr REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\International iNegNumber REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\International iPaperSize REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\International iTime REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\International iTimePrefix REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\International iTLZero REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\International\Geo Nation REG_SZ 244
HKCU\Control Panel\Keyboard InitialKeyboardIndicators REG_SZ 2147483648
HKCU\Control Panel\Keyboard KeyboardDelay REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\Keyboard KeyboardSpeed REG_SZ 31
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse ActiveWindowTracking REG_DWORD 0x0
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse Beep REG_SZ No
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse DoubleClickHeight REG_SZ 4
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse DoubleClickSpeed REG_SZ 500
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse DoubleClickWidth REG_SZ 4
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse ExtendedSounds REG_SZ No
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse MouseHoverHeight REG_SZ 4
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse MouseHoverTime REG_SZ 400
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse MouseHoverWidth REG_SZ 4
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse MouseSensitivity REG_SZ 10
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse MouseSpeed REG_SZ 1
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse MouseThreshold1 REG_SZ 6
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse MouseThreshold2 REG_SZ 10
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse MouseTrails REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse SmoothMouseXCurve REG_BINARY *** binary data snipped ***
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse SmoothMouseYCurve REG_BINARY *** binary data snipped ***
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse SnapToDefaultButton REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\Mouse SwapMouseButtons REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\PowerCfg CurrentPowerPolicy REG_SZ 0
HKCU\Control Panel\PowerCfg\GlobalPowerPolicy Policies REG_BINARY *** binary data snipped ***
HKCU\Control Panel\PowerCfg\PowerPolicies\0 Name REG_SZ Home/Office Desk
HKCU\Control Panel\PowerCfg\PowerPolicies\0 Description REG_SZ This scheme is suited to most home or desktop computers that are left plugged in all the time.
HKCU\Control Panel\PowerCfg\PowerPolicies\0 Policies REG_BINARY *** binary data snipped ***
*** other Power Policies defined here ***      
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